Statesboro, GA, USA
One of the problems with dicussing religion is it's archaic language. There's none of that here, though!
You may disagree, but I've actually found that the "language" of religion ... particularly the Bible, is usually only archaic in terms of translation choice. The main ideas / truths are applicable now as much as they were then ... and so can be expressed in contemporary language quite well. But many get "stuck" in a particular translation of the Bible, perhaps a few centuries old (like the King James Version) and lose the ability to communicate meaningfully to the present generation.
But for whatever it's worth, I'm glad that I'm communicating well with you.
I'm now thinking about nature naturing. Are you suggesting we're un-natural?
No, I suppose that I'm insisting that we are not "merely" natural, and that nature must not be the totality of everything, lest it become the totality of nothing and negate whatever "meaning" we try to ascribe. If you think it's far fetched that a naturalist would come to such a fatalism, I would reply that many have ... mostly the most consistently logical of them. Bertrand Russell was one of them:
"Brief and powerless is Man's life; on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way; for Man, condemned to-day to lose his dearest, to-morrow himself to pass through the gate of darkness, it remains only to cherish, ere yet the blow falls, the lofty thoughts that ennoble his little day; disdaining the coward terrors of the slave of Fate, to worship at the shrine that his own hands have built; undismayed by the empire of chance, to preserve a mind free from the wanton tyranny that rules his outward life; proudly defiant of the irresistible forces that tolerate, for a moment, his knowledge and his condemnation, to sustain alone, a weary but unyielding Atlas, the world that his own ideals have fashioned despite the trampling march of unconscious power. (From "A Free Man's Worship")
Einstein said; "I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not with a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings."
But Einstein only drew the anthropological line a little bit farther, retaining "orderly harmony". If God does not concern himself with humanity, then how can we be assured that he concerns himself with human ideals ... namely order, symmetry, and beauty? Unless God is personal, then even the assurance of these basic things is bound to be lost. And if you peruse the Existential Philosophers (who took the humanism of the Enlightenment seriously), you'll see that this has already been happening.
I just think that Einstein was overly optimistic for his own philsophy, being both Jewish and good natured as he was. One can see that he struggled with this when he said "God doesn't play dice with the universe". For whatever reason, being unable to accept the "personal" God of the Judeo-Christian tradition, he was also unable to accept the implications of an impersonal "all". So he ended up nearly a Pantheist. But I've already hinted at the problems with that view, with which there can be no assurance that "the universe is friendly", to use Einstein's own musing.
I wonder if the Bible assertained that "God made man in his own image" to give man something familiar to picture when thinking about the abstract Idea.
I think the "image" that was given to us, was an ontological reality where value, purpose, emotions were conveyed. The "image" part is a reminder that what we are is divinely authored, and thus the particulars of our earthly existence is grounded in the Heavenly absolute.
And while I think that our image gives us a starting point, to know something of God from nature (Theologians call this "natural theology") and that that was intended by God, I don't think that it was merely given by the writers of scripture to trick us into personifying the universe ... if that's what you mean.
But like all prodigals, I think a glance in the mirror can (under the right influences) remind us of our Father. His identification with us through creation, and ultimately through incarnation is no accident.
You mention an issue of seperation between the Christian Ideology and Pantheism, yet say nothing about The Creation Epics from which the ideas come. People have always personified...perhaps our imaginations are not as vast as we'd like to believe?
While certain Creation stories may have predated the book of Genesis ... I'm not aware of any of them which predate creation itself. I know that sounds like I'm mocking you or something, but what I mean is this: It's not surprising that civilizations would repeat or even invent creation stories, if that's indeed the beginning of our race. The Bible doesn't only assert that we are physically connected to God through creation, but Spiritually as well. Therefore the imagination of humanity, through Pagan religions, was only expressing imperfectly and through myth what was a reality known on a deeper level than mere intellectual history. "For since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made ...." the Apostle Paul tells us. C.S. Lewis saw much of Paganism "foreshadowing" Christianity. Of Course one may assume that borrowing is only explanation. But even if literary borrowing occurred (though even that is not certain when it comes to the Genesis account), the unique divine inspiration of the Bible is not thereby disproven ... especially if surmising "creation" is only natural for mankind to do.
There is one distinct difference between the creation myths of Paganism, and the Genesis account, which sets the Biblical version on quite a different plane. If you're interested I'll go into it.
Or, to put it another way, the cosmos is a finite reflection of infinite Truth, like a memory? (It's difficult to avoid abstractions!) I used the memory idea, as then it's easy to see how bad things come in (evil, irrationality). Memories can fade, and become mixed-up, like a childhood game of whispers, the true message can be lost (through processing!)
Actually the "memory" analogy is very close to what I believe ... as an analogy of course. It's actually very close to Christian Theology of the Fall. Only, if it stands alone, many questions come up. Such as:
-Since we are "living" the memory, how can we be assurred that this muddle is only a memory and not the way things have always been, and must always be? Someone who is "awake" would have to have told us?
-How do we know we'll ever get back to that which we remember? How do we avoid falling into the fatalism of believing that reality resides in the past, and that the future will only bring us increasingly distorted memory?
-If there is a spiritual "truth" or "right" or "reality", then why and upon what authority does it stand?
Yet rationality, morality and choices are bound up with our predetermined desire for survival.
But whether or not we should desire survival for ourselves and our offspring (some don't as you certainly know) is itself a moral question. You might reply that morality has nothing to do with it, since our desire for survival precedes our consideration. But does that really matter, once consideration comes? We are currently questioning nature, so we can't absolutize any of her tendencies in order to answer the question. Also rationality cannot rest on the will to survive, if the question arises as to whether or not it is rational to desire survival or death. Rationality and morality are the judge of these, not the other way around.
C.S. Lewis put it like this:
"Telling us to obey Instinct is like telling us to obey 'people'. People say different things: so do instincts. Our instincts are at war. If it is held that the instinct for preserving the species should always be obeyed at the expense of other instincts, whence do we derive this rule of precedence? To listen to that instinct speaking in its own cause and deciding it in its own favour would be rather simple-minded. Each instinct, if you listen to it, will claim to be gratified at the expense of all the rest. By the very act of listening to one rather than to others we have already prejudged the case. If we did not bring to the examination of our instincts a knowledge of their comparative dignity we could never learn it from them. And that knowledge cannot itself be instinctive: the judge cannot be one of the parties judged; or, if he is, the decision is worthless and there is no ground for placing the preservation of the species above self-preservation or sexual appetite."(From "The Abolition of Man")
And if you say that the final irreducible desire for survival is expressed in self-preservation ... I would respond by saying that there are situations where that mindset would be the opposite of moral (though not always). But either way the question of survival must be subject to the moral question, not vice versa. Would we excuse someone for killing 100 people to save himself? And whether or not the race as a whole survives, is a distinctly moral question, not an instinct set above self preservation. Again, both examples are subject to the moral question ... not the source of it.
Back onto the question of purpose, I've been thinking about this in terms of art and music, and the word "emotive" keeps popping up. Music and art manage to communicate emotively, thus personalising a universal communication. Perhaps this is a step toward trancendence?
But isn't this merely to say that we ourselves (and thus in our art) are personal? To personalize a universal communication still begs the question of whether or not personality itself has any transcendent purpose ... or whether or not there is really anyone "out there" to communicate to. That's why the whole "DaDa" art movement was born, in my opinion. Taking existential philsophy into the artistic expression, nihilism in art was the next step.
Of course, I'm not saying that you're not on to something here. Our "art" in its outreaching way, and personal way, is indeed a clue to whether there is anything transcendent "out there". Because it represents a hunger ... and even in nature, we rarely see a stomach given with no corresponding food. But it is supra- or super-natural from whence such bread comes.
Sorry this was so long,